Learn how to pack for a move like a pro! Our hard-learned tips & trips will help ease the burden of a very stressful event.
Unless you’re wealthy enough to hire a company to oversee and execute your entire move, from packing to move-out to transport to move-in to unpacking, you’re going to go through some unpleasant times when moving from house to house or apartment to apartment. The stress of moving has been likened to the stress of divorce or losing a loved one, and as we’re currently in the middle of our fourth US move, we can attest to the stress! Physically and mentally, it’s one of the toughest jobs out there, especially when DIYing it, like we’ve done for this move and the one prior.
But along the way we’ve learned a thing or two, and I’m here to share our hard-won knowledge in the hopes that it may make your next DIY move a little easier and little less stressful.
As I previously mentioned, it is possible to pay someone to do every single bit of the move for you. But this will cost a small fortune, and most of us wouldn’t be willing or able to pay that kind of money. To put actual numbers to my point, our 4162-square-foot Georgia home (over 6000 square feet if you include the unfinished-but-full basement) would have cost us over $30,000 to have partially packed, moved, stored for three months and then unloaded (but not unpacked) at the new house. On top of realtor commissions and closing costs, it was just too much of a financial burden. Handan did receive a relocation allowance, but it wasn’t even close to being enough to cover a full-service move by professional movers.
And if $30,000 sounds steep for a 400-mile move, Handan and I listened in horror to the story of two bloggers on Instagram who ended up shelling out over $80,000 for a cross-country move after falling victim to unsavory movers who held their belongings hostage.
When Allied Van Lines and their ilk are ruled out, you’re left with various flavors of DIY moving. Between this move and our last, we’ve become pretty well-versed in moving with PODS, PackRat, and U-Haul, as well as short-term (a few months) storage using PODS, PackRat and self-storage.
Let’s dive in and unpack the process of packing.
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How to Pack for a Move
Before all else (and during the packing phase) – Declutter!
Moving is the perfect time to lighten the load, and it’ll save you on shipping and storage down the road. As soon as you know you’ll be moving, start selling what you no longer need or want. If you can’t sell it, donate it to Goodwill and claim the donation on your taxes. If you can’t donate it, then throw it away.
To pack effectively, you’re going to need boxes, and lots of ’em. There are three main suppliers that most of us are familiar with: U-Haul, Lowe’s and Home Depot. Let me be crystal clear about moving boxes – they are most assuredly not all created equal!
The hands-down winner in this category is Lowe’s. They’ve redesigned their boxes (those medium size and above) to be easier to carry by offsetting the handles. They were inspired to do this by watching how people carry boxes without handles – one arm stretched out and one in close.
U-Haul comes in second. Their boxes are just as good as Lowe’s in terms of quality, but in addition to the offset handles, Lowe’s also offers a line of heavy-duty boxes for heavier items.
The absolute worst is Home Depot. No matter what, do not buy moving boxes from them. The build quality is fine, but aside from the fact that they’ve shrunk the large size (but not the price), Home Depot moving boxes suffer from one unforgivable and fatal flaw: packing tape will not stick to them.
Weird, isn’t it? A box that won’t hold tape.
I don’t know if there is an oily film that’s deposited during the manufacturing process, but we’ve noticed this with our past two moves, two years apart with boxes from several Home Depots in three different states. I’ve tried every type of clear packing tape and the brown paper tape that U-Haul sells, and nothing will properly stick to a Home Depot moving box. And if you’re packing in cold weather, you may as well drive down the highway and throw your stuff out the window. It’ll save you the frustration of having the bottom fall out of your box later on.
I would recommend buying more boxes than you think you’ll need. You can always return the unused ones at the end. Even so, you may need to make several supply trips. Even if I knew how many boxes we were going to need at the beginning of the move, the flattened boxes would not have fit in one trip.
You’ll see a lot of box kits, especially at U-Haul. These may or may not make sense, depending on how much you’ll need to pack. There are also all sorts of specialty boxes. We find most of them – especially the kitchen-specific ones – to be a waste of money, but that’s just our opinion. If you have flat-screen TVs, you’ll want to get a flat-screen shipping box. All three places carry them, but we recommend Lowe’s. Home Depot has a good box, but it also suffers from the same tape-sticking issue as its smaller brethren. We don’t recommend U-Haul for flat-screen boxes, as we’re not fans of the corner padding system they come with. We much prefer the corner pads in the Lowe’s flat-screen packing kit.
I used everything from Scotch’s top-of-the-line heavy duty packing tape to Dollar tree packing tape for this most recent move. They all have their pros and cons.
For the bottoms of boxes that will be carrying heavy items, I like to use Scotch heavy duty packing/shipping tape. It’s the most expensive, but it holds like gangbusters (as long as the box isn’t from Home Depot), and as an added bonus, it’s silent coming off the dispenser! Yep, none of that horrifying banshee-shrieking that other tapes do when unrolled.
For the less-important tops, I use the noisy-but-cheaper Duck brand. When you pack as many boxes as we did, prices matter!
I even bought a few rolls of Dollar Tree tape. The verdict: not worth it. The tape itself is perfectly fine (at least for the tops of boxes), but it is a bit thinner than the other brands, and when you lose the leading edge (which will happen, trust), you may never find it again on the roll. Packing is stressful enough at the best of times. Hunting around and around a roll of tape for the leading edge while under a time constraint is just unnecessary frustration.
Don’t waste your time with the big and fancy-looking dispenser guns. They end up costing more time than they’re worth, at least in my opinion. Or maybe I’m just using them wrong, I don’t know. IMHO, you’re better off with a couple of little red plastic tape dispensers.
How to tape up a box
Though it uses more tape, and thus costs more money, we like four strips on the bottom and either two or four up top, depending on weight. Check out the picture below. It shows one box taped with four strips on bottom and top and one box with four strips on the bottom and two on top.
It’s probably overkill, but we don’t ever have to worry about our boxes breaking open.
Bubble wrap is the most versatile of the paddings, and it’s the one we used the most. We used several rolls each of the 12 inch x 250 feet small-bubble wrap and 24 inch x 100 feet small-bubble wrap. They sell a large-bubble wrap, but we prefer the smaller-bubble wrap. It’s useful for wrapping furniture legs and even full pieces of small furniture. Folded over on itself and taped in place, it makes excellent corner and edge protection for tables.
For dishes and other flat breakables, we like cushion foam in both the 12 inch and 24 inch widths.
For glassware and other smaller breakables, you can’t beat good old-fashioned packing paper. If you have old newspapers, you’re in luck – use those. If not, you’ll have to spend money on packing paper sheets, but it’s money well spent. Of the three stores, we found U-Haul to be the best bang for the buck for packing paper.
One of the most versatile packing materials is stretch film. It comes in three sizes, but we’ve had luck with just the small and medium. This stuff is incredible. We use it on everything from organizing small kitchen utensils to holding moving blankets on large pieces of furniture. Stretch film also excels at keeping carpets and rugs neatly and tightly rolled.
Unlike with the boxes, padding materials (with the exception of moving blankets which I will cover next) can be bought at Lowe’s, U-Haul or Home Depot. We found Lowe’s and Home Depot to have the best selection, and their prices are close enough not to matter. At least in our area, U-Haul didn’t have the wide selection of the other two.
Moving Blankets/Furniture Pads
But when it comes to moving blankets, U-Haul is king. Every store offers a premium blanket, and both U-Haul and Home Depot offer a cheaper alternative. Not only is U-Haul’s premium blanket the cheapest of the three ($15 vs $18 at Home Depot and Lowe’s), but their cheap blanket (furniture pad, as they call it) is only $8, while Home Depot’s is about $11.50. Home Depot does have an oversized blanket for about $40 that, while pricey, could come in handy for a really big piece you may want to protect.
If you have a lot of bath towels, blankets and comforters, you can press them into service as makeshift furniture pads to save money on buying them. We used all the spare blankets and towels we had (and pillows) but still used about 15 moving blankets (mostly the cheap U-Haul variety).
If you don’t mind shopping online for moving supplies, Amazon has some great deals on bulk moving blankets.
Ziploc Storage Bags
We live in the age of build-it-yourself furniture, and when breaking down those pieces for a move, you may find yourself with a handful of bolts or a pocketful of screws. I find the best way to keep everything together is to throw the small stuff and miscellaneous hardware into a Ziploc bag, roll it up, seal it, and then tape it onto or inside the piece of furniture. I can’t tell you how many minor panic attacks I’ve had in prior years when I separated furniture from its hardware and then forgot where I put the hardware when it came time to re-assemble in the new house. Save yourself the drama with baggies!
It may seem obvious, but you’ll need one (or more for a big move) good pen to write on your boxes. Want something even more reliable and longer-lasting than a Sharpie? Then get your hands on a couple of these little wizards from Milwaukee tools. The best workshop (and moving) marker you’ll ever use!
While a good utility knife and a supply of extra blades is a must on the far end of the move, it’ll come in handy when you inevitably have to get back inside one of the boxes you just taped up. Don’t take the rip-off route – you’ll just weaken the box and make a mess. Take the time to slice the tape.
Washing Machine Shipping Bolts
Got a front-load washing machine? Plan on moving it? Don’t even think about it until you buy a set of four shipping bolts sized to fit your machine. If you have a top-load washer, you can skip this step, but the spinning arm that carries the clothing drum on front-load machines is not strong enough to handle the stresses of moving. Shipping bolts lock the drum in place, so It won’t bounce around and over-stress the spin arm. Search Amazon and Google for shipping bolts for your specific machine.
They’re great for holding pillows and bedding, but we also used them to protect our dining room chairs for this move and the previous one.
Dining Room Chair Packing Tip
I first wrapped the wood legs with bubble wrap.
Then I placed a contractor bag over the chair back.
I used scissors to cut the bag in the middle of the back near the bottom.
Cutting the bag allowed me to pull it over the seat.
I then pulled the flaps over all the sides, gathered them underneath the seat, and taped them in place.
As a final step, I taped the contractor bag to the bubble wrap to keep the wrap from sliding off the legs.
The chair was now well-protected and ready to move, and we didn’t have to waste money on a moving blanket or furniture bag (about $9 each).
Now that you’ve learned how to pack for a move, read on for our moving tips and tricks!